If you’re visiting Falkirk, taking a tour of the Callendar House should definitely be on your itinerary. This year, the house was closed for nearly six months due to world events. As it happens, I was their very first visitor when they reopened on September 10th. In case you’re not able to get to Scotland in the near future, or if you’d just like a taste of what’s in the house, here’s a little virtual tour. This is definitely not meant to supplant your own visit someday.
Where and What is the Callendar House
The Callendar House is the centerpiece of a 500-acre estate in the southeast part of the town of Falkirk. The manor house started off as a single, small stone tower in the 1300s. Over the past 700 years, it’s changed hands several times and also expanded considerably in size. Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Queen Victoria are among the famous people who have stayed at the Callendar House.
The entrance to the Callendar House is less than a mile away from the city center. You could take the F16 bus there, but it’s just as easy to walk. It’s a bit awkward to see the eleven 15-story apartment buildings that were built at the beginning of the estate as part of a community development project in the last century, but once you’re through those, the beautiful estate grounds begin.
A Virtual Tour of the Callendar House
The Callendar House interiors have been restored to their Georgian-style glory and now most of the rooms contain a museum for the history of the house and other temporary and permanent exhibitions. There’s quite a bit to see and take in between all the exhibits. If you wanted to rush through and get the general idea of the place, you could probably see everything in about 45 minutes. If you’re more inquisitive and want to read all the panels, it might take you about 2-3 hours to get through all the exhibitions.
Rather than try to explain all the photos and panels, I’ll just let them speak for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to visit in person. I apologize in advance that some of them aren’t crisp.
The Story of Callendar House
This is the first of the three permanent exhibitions as part of the self-guided tour of the Callendar House. I was amazed to see the progress of the mansion from a simple tower house to what it is today. There’s also a massive amount of history connected to the house, including reformations, revolutions, royalty in residence, etc.
The Antonine Wall – Rome’s Northern Frontier
The Antonine Wall was built 20 years after the more famous Hadrian’s Wall and stretched from the River Clyde near Glasgow to the Firth of Forth (similar to the route of the Forth and Clyde Canal). The wall was abandoned only 8 years after its construction and fell into ruin. The portions of the wall that remain are protected by UNESCO World Heritage status, including the section that runs across the Callendar Estate, although it’s now hard to recognize as a wall. There’s another portion of the wall you can visit at Rough Castle near the Falkirk Wheel.
Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution
If you read my article on the Kelpies, you’ll know that Falkirk played an important role in iron and steelworks for Europe. But I didn’t know how important that role was until I visited the Callendar House. Falkirk iron was actually exported across the entire planet; you can see manhole covers bearing the Falkirk Iron Co. stamp in small villages in Africa and Asia!
The Callendar House Georgian Kitchen
This Georgian kitchen speaks for itself. At the end of the eastern wing of the house, it dates back to the 1700s and still has much of its original equipment, including the iron pans, a large bread oven, and a massive fireplace. The contraption on the fireplace was fascinating. That iron door above the fireplace wasn’t a smaller stove. Rather, it was a fan in the flue which turned a series of gears and chains which rotated two spits in front of the fire, and two hooks for hanging poultry.
There will be a staff member dressed in character to show you around the kitchen and describe what the different artifacts were used for, how old things were, etc. I was particularly interested in the story about how children used to live and sleep beneath the large kitchen table. Their job was to ensure the fire never went out, using up to twelve buckets of coal a day, and sometimes sitting on the small iron bench next to the fire to turn the spit (before they installed the mechanical contraption).
The kitchen was also a filming location for the TV Series Outlander. In season 2, episode 11, it was used as the kitchen at the Duke of Sandringham’s home, Belhurst Manor. In case you haven’t watched the series yet, I won’t spoil what happened in that episode, but I will say it’s the scene with the famous line “I kept my word. I lay my vengeance at your feet”. The Callendar House is just one of many filming locations in Falkirk used for Outlander and other movies.
The Park Gallery Exhibitions
This is one of the temporary exhibition rooms. At the time of my visit, the exhibition was called “Uprooted” and covered a refugee movement. To be honest, by the time I made it into this room, I was running behind schedule and didn’t really have a lot of time to read everything. I don’t know how long each of the exhibits stays up for, but I believe there are about seven different exhibits that rotate each year.
Unfortunately, due to the world events of 2020, the Callendar House is no longer allowed to hand out floor plans, so I didn’t really know what exhibitions I was walking into or which room of the house I was in. Here are some more photos from the last exhibits titled The Waters of Life, covering the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, as well as the role that Falkirk had with shipbuilding and shipbreaking.
The Falkirk Archives
At the time of my visit, the Falkirk Archives were not open to the public, but I had a chance to peek into the room. I love old libraries like that, with floor to ceiling bookshelves.
Booking Your Own Tour of the Callendar House
Perhaps the best part of the Callendar House is that it’s free to visit! You just have to prebook your tour in compliance with the new regulations due to the world events of 2020. At this time, there are only 6 people allowed in the house every half an hour, and a one-way system is in place for all the exhibitions. The Callendar House is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry slot at 4 p.m.
As I said earlier, you could rush through in under an hour, but if I were you, I’d plan to be in the house for at least a couple hours. If you have more time, you can also spend a few hours walking around the grounds. Some of the sights to see are the Forbes Mausoleum, the remnants of the Antonine Wall, and Callendar Lake.
While you’re walking around the grounds, if you notice that the back of the house looks like it could have been the front, it actually once was. The castle-like facade at the current front of the house where the giftshop is located is a recent addition. The old entrance has since been bricked up, but those bay windows that looked out to the woodland were indeed part of the house’s original reception.
Another great thing to do at the Callendar House is Afternoon Tea, but at this time, the Tearoom is closed due to government restrictions. Hopefully, it will reopen in the near future. I’ll update this article when it does.
Lastly, make sure to pick up the Callendar House guidebook from the gift shop. It covers anything you might have missed about the house and grounds and gives detailed descriptions about the permanent exhibits and different rooms of the house. I’ve tried not to include too many details in this post simply because I want you to visit the house yourself someday and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
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Headed to Scotland and looking for more activities outside of Edinburgh? Here are some other suggestions.
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- Adoring the Snow Leopards at the Highland Wildlife Park
- Explore the Isle of Lewis and Harris to See Scotland’s Best
- Edinburgh Excursions: Spending an Afternoon at Go Ape Peebles
- Is a Day Tour from Edinburgh to Loch Ness Worth It?
- What It’s Like to Take the Hogwarts Express in Scotland
- A Day of Adventures with Nevis Range in Fort William, Scotland
- The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to St Andrews, Scotland
- A Comprehensive Guide to Spending 48 Hours on the Isle of Skye
- Seeing Dundee’s Facelift at the V&A Dundee and Sleeperz Hotel
- An Honest Review of the Whisky, Warriors and Waterfalls Tour with Haggis Adventures
- Discovering the Outlander Filming Locations Near Edinburgh
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.